International admissions reps all have a love/hate relationship when it comes to travel. While friends and family see only positive smiling faces and amazing sites in images on Facebook and Instagram, and sure, you typically get to keep your air miles and hotel points, but the reality of the grind before, during, and immediately after recruitment trips paints a very different picture. Yet what can easily get lost in the shuffle of prepping, carrying out, and recovering from a recruitment trip are the important opportunities to connect with prospective students that can give you the edge once a strong personal relationship is established.
Sending materials ahead, applying for visas, confirming visits, booking flights, reconfirming hotels, identifying in-country transportation options, and, don’t forget packing light represent a reasonable list of what happens before travel even takes place. It’s the night before you head to the airport setting out on a two- to three-week trip, and you suddenly get a cold chill down your spine. You shoot up out of bed realizing you haven’t sent any communications to individuals in areas you’ll be visiting. Oops!
This is not simply a story for effect. In talking with even seasoned globe trotters, this oversight happens more often than we might like to admit. And yes, I’ve done this, too, but only once, early on in my career. Unless your institution has no prospects in the cities or countries you are traveling to, notifying students who’ve expressed interest in your college is a must. But pre-travel messaging is not only vital to your success with audiences already familiar with you and your institution.
How about students who may be connected with your college on social media but have not yet filled out an online inquiry form or directly contacted you? Have you posted events on your office’s social media profiles (through geo-targeted posts) and website that a representative from your college will be attending an upcoming public fair or reception? If you’re doing a number of public fairs and have counselor lists of area schools, have you reached out personally to invite them to connect with you?
For advanced, fairly sophisticated international admission offices, two other groups besides students and counselors typically figure into pre-trip communications: alumni and current students’ parents. If fairs allow it, why wouldn’t you want a current students’ parent or (properly trained) alum to stand with you for a college fair? Even if they can’t make a fair, reaching out to these important influencers, much like college counselors, is a sign of respect, that you value them. Make time to reach out, you’ll be surprised.
What few know and realize about international student recruitment travel (until they do a trip themselves) is that the workdays run as long as 18-20 hours, time spent in traffic can suck the life from you, while back-to-back college fairs, lunchtime school visits, and evening receptions and counselor dinners test the patience of the even saints among us. Far from the glamorous life. You may have a whole 15 minutes to take some pictures of famous landmarks or the most amazing lunch or dinner spot or dish.
When it comes to communications, keeping up with the latest tools often is a no-win task. But making the extra effort to reconnect with students you’ve just met can truly set yourself and your institution apart. The last thing most of want to do after a 15-hour day of events is to send messages to students you’ve met. Consider this, students these days are not only on social media, they live on their phones, where messaging apps dominate their time. Emails can be handled en masse if you have captured student data on an iPad form, perhaps you can even upload them into your CRM (if you’ve got the bandwidth in your hotel wifi), and have those pre-planned messages go out automatically.
But nothing is more impactful, if you’ve captured a WhatsApp number or a WeChat name (if traveling in China), than sending a quick personal and short message out to students with whom you had a meaningful conversation. Clearly, it’s not realistic to do this with every prospect you meet on the road. Yet for those students who spent the time to get to know your institution, hearing soon after their initial contact with you can make all the difference.
At a previous institution, we met a large group of students and parents at two fairs in Vietnam. We had planned in advance to host a live video chat shortly after the fairs while our rep was still in country. During the fairs our rep handed out cards to parents and students inviting them to the online chat a couple of days later where we had one of our current Vietnamese students available to answer questions in their native language. That fall we had our largest applicant and admitted student group from Vietnam. Our extra effort paid off.
Only the sturdiest, most committed among international admissions travelers have contacting students at our near the top of their list immediately after re-entry from a trip overseas. Doing laundry, eating comfort food, and catching up on sleep typically rate well above reconnecting with prospects after returning home. Think about this: if you’ve been out of the office for 2 weeks or longer and haven’t had an opportunity to follow-up while on the road, students might think you don’t love them anymore.
Let’s face it, the more points of contact you have with prospects, especially with ones you’ve met personally, the better the opportunity to eventually enroll them. The key to your success comes with the effectiveness of your emails and other messages. With well-defined calls to action, timed shortly after your return, coupled with impactful pre-trip messaging and in-country personalization you set yourself and your institution up for success. Good luck, road warriors!
If you’re interested in planning future recruitment travel or need advice on your team’s recruitment strategy, contact us.